OWL Magazine Korea

Seoul, One of Joseon Dynasty’s Main Palace: Gyeongbokgung

Seoul, formerly known as “Hanyang,” served as the capital of the Joseon Dynasty for 500 years. Thanks to this, especially within the inner walls of Hanyang Fortress, you can encounter the palaces of the Joseon era.

Among the five grand palaces of Joseon – Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Gyeonghuigung, and Deoksugung – it’s impossible not to mention Gyeongbokgung, which stood at the heart of Joseon history.

“Gyeongbokgung: Constructed as the Main Palace of Joseon”

Gyeongbokgung was the first palace to be built during the Joseon era. It is considered both the main and legal palace of Joseon. Taizong Lee Seong-gye, after founding the Joseon Dynasty and relocating the capital to Hanyang, constructed Gyeongbokgung as the first palace.

The name “Gyeongbokgung” was bestowed by “Jeong Do-jeon.” It is known to have been derived from the last two characters in the phrase “Already intoxicated with wine, already sated with virtue. O King, for ten thousand years, enjoy this great fortune,” found in the Book of Odes.

Jeong Do-jeon, upon receiving a royal decree from Taizong to name the newly built palace, promptly stood up and named it “Gyeongbokgung.” Furthermore, Jeong Do-jeon also named other structures within Gyeongbokgung, such as “Geunjeongjeon, Sajeongjeon, Gangnyeongjeon, Gyotaejeon,” and the like.

“Gyeongbokgung, Destroyed During the Japanese Invasion of Korea”

Until the outbreak of the Japanese invasion, Gyeongbokgung thrived as the legal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. However, when the invasion began and King Seonjo fled Gyeongbokgung to escape the Japanese forces, enraged citizens set fire to Gyeongbokgung. This event led to significant destruction, and even after the war, it was left in a state of neglect for some time.

For over 200 years after the Japanese invasion, Gyeongbokgung remained neglected. It was only after Prince Heungseon Daewongun came to power that the decision to reconstruct Gyeongbokgung was made in order to strengthen royal authority.

“Reconstruction of Gyeongbokgung and the Trials of the Japanese Colonial Period”

Though “Gyeongbokgung” was reconstructed during the late Joseon period under Prince Heungseon Daewongun, its trials persisted. Subsequently, during the Japanese colonial period, Gyeongbokgung faced continued hardship. A building known as the “Government-General Building of Korea” was erected on the site of Gyeongbokgung, and Gwanghwamun, which served as the southern gate of Gyeongbokgung, was relocated to the east. Additionally, as part of the process, many of Gyeongbokgung’s buildings were auctioned off, resulting in the loss of nearly 93% of its original structures.

“Gyeongbokgung Restoration Project Since 1990”

Gyeongbokgung, having endured numerous trials, has gradually been regaining its former appearance since the initiation of the Gyeongbokgung Restoration Project in 1990. The project involves the sequential restoration of previously lost structures. However, it has faced criticism due to concerns about historical accuracy.

“Gyeonghoeru at Gyeongbokgung”

There are two places in Gyeongbokgung that offer breathtaking views. The first is Gyeonghoeru, designated as National Treasure No. 224 on January 8, 1985.

Gyeonghoeru, a pavilion situated in the northwest of the pond by Gyeonghoeru, served as the venue for feasts held when important national events or foreign envoys visited.

Initially, Gyeonghoeru was relatively small when Gyeongbokgung was first built. However, in the 12th year of King Taejong’s reign (1412), the pond was expanded, and Gyeonghoeru was subsequently reconstructed on a grander scale.

After surviving a fire during the Japanese invasions, leaving only the stone pillars, Gyeonghoeru was rebuilt when Gyeongbokgung was restored by King Gojong in 1867 after 270 years.

Gyeonghoeru is the largest single-floor pavilion in Korea. It beautifully exemplifies the characteristics of late Joseon pavilion architecture – simple yet luxuriously adorned. Recognized for its outstanding proportions and harmony among all its finely crafted elements, Gyeonghoeru is valued highly for its historical, artistic, and architectural significance.

Many photographers seek out this spot for photo shoots, and it’s a must-visit attraction within Gyeongbokgung for visitors capturing the essence of this historical palace.

“Hyangwonjeong at Gyeongbokgung”

The second notable location is Hyangwonjeong. It’s a two-story pavilion located in the southern pond of Geoncheonggung Palace. It’s believed to have been constructed in 1885. The name “Hyangwon” is derived from the phrase “Fragrant far and wide,” taken from the <Aeryeonsol (Love for the Lotus)> written by Confucian scholar Chu Eui-Don (1017-1073).

This pavilion was designated as National Treasure No. 1759 on March 2, 2012. It’s a symbol of Gyeongbokgung, nestled in the picturesque scenery of Gyeongbokgung’s rear garden, providing a serene space for the king and his family to relax.

Hyangwonjeong features a hexagonal foundation, a hexagonal floor plan, and a hexagonal multi-hipped roof. All these elements, meticulously and exquisitely crafted, showcase a superb proportional sense, making it a remarkable pavilion of the late Joseon period.

Hyangwonjeong also offers a splendid view that harmonizes beautifully with its surroundings. It’s a must-visit spot while exploring Gyeongbokgung.

“Seoul Gyeongbokgung Palace”

  • Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
  • Phone Number: 02-3700-3900
  • Operating Hours: 9:00 AM – 4:00-6:00 PM (Closing time differs by seasons)
  • Website: https://www.royalpalace.go.kr